The latest Residents project has a whiff of old time radio about it. That’s a bit of a misnomer; I don’t believe radio drama ever went away, but it’s definitely less prevalent these days. And what better place to do something niche than on the Internet? Podcasts are simply radio shows done online, but they’re mostly bored teenagers talking about themselves. It’s a medium ripe for creative exploration, and I’m glad The Residents have dipped their collective toe into it, even if it’s only to show everybody else what they could be doing.
The River of Crime is presented in serial format, though it’s more of an anthology series with a common narrator than a single story. It works well, though. The problem with traditional serials is that the story stops and starts with each episode and is often padded to make each part fill the time. The benefit with these self-contained stories is that they eliminate the continual arbitrary cliffhangers that plague a serial.
Of all the episodes, I like “The Beards” best. There’s a special kind of horror in being caught in a situation that, from an outside perspective, looks criminally suspicious. Child molestation is no joke, and to be merely accused of it is highly damaging. Even if a person is proven to be innocent, that stigma will be carried forever, because a court’s decision is far outweighed by the public’s gossip. Of all the stories in this series, this one seems like it will affect the narrator the most over time.
Scripts have been provided with each episode, perhaps to allow interested listeners to stage their own productions. But in reality it gives us a tiny glimpse into how The Residents operate. In the first script there is a note for two voices: “Already exists as archive recording; will use that or re-create.” From this we learn two things: The Residents have done research and gathered real materials for this project, and they were open to the possibility of casting new actors late in the game. The reasons to not use the archival recordings are likely due to how they’d fit (either sonically or in their pacing). That they didn’t update the script before letting the public see it is a bold move for a group that banks on its mystery. Or maybe they just forgot. It happens.
Though a radio play at heart, the music of the series is very strong with many catchy melodies woven throughout. Overall the sound seems closer to Demons Dance Alone, so it makes the path of the group’s movement a bit confusing. It seems that they stepped forward with their remix projects, veered off another way with Animal Lover, and then went back again for this. It does keep up the excellent use of other voices, though they seem to be taking a backseat once again.
At the same time, their interest in remixing continues, and is spread throughout the Internet. On MySpace they have been releasing more songs under the RMX moniker (some of which are included as bonus material for River of Crime), and on YouTube they have a series of videos that take old educational films and add new soundtracks and narration, often funny and sometimes disturbing. I suppose River of Crime is also a remix of sorts too, though it’s more in concept than content – it brings new technology to an old form.
Will there be more crimecasts? I’d like to think so, and that is the implication. But these five episodes form a nice arc and the only way forward would be to repeat the formula with another character (which is redundant and boring) or have the current narrator branch out into committing his own crimes (which is what other people would have done in the first place, so unoriginal and therefore boring).
No, I think the way forward is something new, but will retain the strong narrative element and remix sensibility we’ve seen with the last couple of releases.